No. 1 USC Women’s Water Polo Hunts Fourth Straight MPSF Crown At Home
2022 MPSF Tournament
Uytengsu Aquatics Center (Los Angeles)
Friday, April 22
Game 1:  Stanford vs.  San José State — 11 a.m.
Game 2:  UCLA vs.  Indiana — 12:45 p.m.
Game 3:  California vs.  Arizona State — 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 23
Game 4: Game 1 vs. Game 2 losers — 11 a.m.
Semi 1: Game 1 vs. Game 2 winners — 12:45 p.m.
Semi 2:  USC vs. Game 3 winner — 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 24
Fifth Place: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner — 11 a.m.
Third Place — 12:45 p.m.
Championship — 2:30 p.m.
TOURNAMENT CENTRAL: https://usctrojans.com/feature/mpsf-womens-water-polo-championships-tou…
LIVE STREAMS ($$$): https://mpsports.org/watch
The top-ranked team in the nation, USC has its eyes on claiming a fourth straight MPSF Tournament title as the Trojans set up as hosts of this 2022 MPSF Tournament. The event runs April 22-24 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, but the Trojans (17-2) have earned a first-round bye to move straight to the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday (April 23). There, USC will face either No. 4 seed California or No. 5 seeded Arizona State. A win would put the Trojans in contention to defend its three consecutive MPSF crowns won in 2018, 2019 and 2021, as the 2020 tournament was not held due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2022 MPSF title match is set for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday (April 24), preceded by an 11 a.m. fifth-place game and a 12:45 p.m. third-place game. The tournament champion receives an automatic berth in the coming 2022 NCAA Tournament — where USC is hoping to win back-to-back national championships for the first time in program history. All MPSF Tournament games will be streamed at mpsports.org/watch for a fee.
USC started up 2022 in the same spot it left off, with the defending NCAA champs opening up at No. 1 in this year's preseason poll. USC remained on top for the first three weeks of competition and was at No. 3 for one week before going to No. 2. USC had been at No. 3 since March 9 until its takeover of the top on April 6. The Trojans remain at No. 1 in the land in the latest national rankings (released April 20).
The seven-team MPSF Tournament lands in USC's home waters this week at Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Top-seeded USC — three-time defending champion as the 2018, 2019 and 2021 victors — has earned a bye into the semifinals, while the other six teams have quarterfinals lined up for opening day. The seedings shake out with USC (17-2) as the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 Stanford (19-2), No. 3 UCLA (22-3), No. 4 California (15-4), No. 5 Arizona State (14-11), No. 6 Indiana (14-14) and No. 7 San José State (11-14).
THIS TIME LAST YEAR
USC held a 17-1 overall record and scored the top seed into the 2021 MPSF Tournament, held April 30-May 2 in Tempe, Ariz. The Trojans earned a first-round bye and would meet up with host Arizona State in the semifinals — the fifth meeting between USC and the Sun Devils that season. Nine Trojans scored in a 16-8 win, led by Bayley Weber's season-high four-goal outburst. In the title match, USC was up against Stanford, and it was a one-goal game entering the fourth period. There, the Trojans got two goals apiece from seniors Maud Megens and Kelsey McIntosh, while goalie Holly Parker worked her way to a 10-save performance to lock up at third straight MPSF crown with a 9-6 win over the Cardinal. For the second time in the past three MPSF Tournaments held, Maud Megens picked up top honors as MPSF Tournament MVP. Denise Mammolito and Holly Parker also earned MPSF All-Tournament Team honors.
USC put on a winning show in front of an appreciate crowd, beating No. 3 rival UCLA 9-7 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center to finish MPSF action undefeated and secure the top seed into the conference tournament The Trojans never trailed, netting key goals to keep the Bruins at bay in USC's home waters. It was an all-around effort by the Trojans, who had six different scorers along with some savvy defensive plays to stymie the Bruins along the way. Goalie Carolyne Stern made a 5-meter penalty block and snuffed a could dangerous UCLA counterattack chances to keep her Trojans in stride. Paige Hauschild and Mireia Guiral both punched up their second goals of the day during the fourth period, and one last Stern saved sealed it for USC.
BY THE NUMBERS
As the Trojans enter the postseason, USC's scoring pace continues to be led by Olympian Tilly Kearns, who has scored 51 goals to date for the Trojans. She is followed closely by Bayley Weber's 47 blasts. Paige Hauschild and Grace Tehaney, meanwhile, are well into 30-goal terrain with 38 and 37 goals, respectively. Tehaney has scored in 18 of USC's 19 games to date. Defensively, Carolyne Stern and Erin Tharp have shared time in the cage, averaging a combined 6.8 saves per game to anchor a Trojan defense giving up just 6.8 goals per game. USC has outscored opponents 296-129 so far, while holding teams scoreless in 11 different periods to date.
ON THE RISE
With her work at the Triton Invite, Grace Tehaney became the latest Trojan to work her way into the 100-goal club at USC, joining the earlier-inducted Bayley Weber. Tehaney is now at 120 career goals, while Weber currently holds 137 career goals as a Trojan — ranking her at No. 18 all-time. Meanwhile, Paige Hauschild is also on the climb, boasting 155 career goals to rank No. 13 all-time in the Trojan history books to date. Knocking on the door of the 100-goal club, meanwhile, is senior Mireia Guiral, who currently clocks in at 95 career goals. So, too, is goalie Carolyne Stern poised for a bump in the rankings. With 146 career saves, she's now three away from moving to No. 9 all-time at USC.
STERN HAULS IN FIRST MPSF HONOR
Goalie Carolyne Stern came up big for the top-ranked Trojans in their 9-7 win over No. 3 UCLA, and her performance netted her first career honor as the MPSF Player of the Week on April 19. Against the Bruins in the final game of the regular season last weekend, Stern made eight saves, including a 5-meter penalty stop and two 1-on-1 counterattack saves. She also had a steal in the win. Her eighth save against a 7-on-6 attack preserved USC's 9-7 lead in the final minute. Stern's performance not only helped USC wrap an undefeated run through MPSF play, it improved her career saves total to 146 — lifting the junior three saves away from ranking No. 9 all-time in career saves at USC.
USC's top scorer at the Triton Invitational, Bayley Weber extended her run of multi-goal games to eight straight and deservedly earned her first career selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 15. Weber tallied 11 goals for the Trojans in their run to the Triton Invite final. She scored three goals in the title match, an 11-10 loss to UCLA, after providing two in USC's 9-7 win over Hawai'i in the semifinals that morning. Weber also scored two to help beat UCSB 17-6 and then four goals to beat Long Beach State 17-6 in group play. Almost two months later, Weber recorded her second career MPSF Player of the Week selection on April 12. In a balanced effort in an MPSF road win, Weber recorded her 16th multi-goal game of the year with two goals along with three field blocks, two steals and an assist as USC beat the host Sun Devils 15-11. Weber, who has scored in all but two games this season, ranks No. 18 all-time in career scoring at USC with 137 goals.
MIRI MAKES ANOTHER MPSF MARK
Senior Mireia Guiral caused trouble for opponents on both ends of the pool in the Trojans' recent victorious road trip, and she was honored as the MPSF Player of the Week for the third time in her career and the first time this season. Guiral scored four goals on six shots, amassed six steals and had two field blocks and an assist in USC's winning MPSF weekend, as the Trojans beat Stanford 10-8 and San José State 18-5. Against the host Cardinal, Guiral's first of two goals gave USC a 3-2 lead in the second period, and the Trojans never trailed the rest of the way. Her second goal lifted USC to an 8-5 advantage in the third. She also had three steals and a field block in the victory over Stanford. The next day, Guiral scored twice in the second half as USC broke away from the Spartans. She also had three more steals along with an assist and another field block to help USC to victory over the Spartans. Guiral became the third Trojan to be named an MPSF Player of the Week this season, following two picks for Tilly Kearns and one for Bayley Weber in 2022. Guiral's past MPSF Player of the Week selections came during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Guiral is currently USC's fifth leading scorer this year with 27 goals to date. That gives the senior 95 career goals as she hunts down a chance to break the 100-goal barrier.
TILLY TAKES TWO
Tilly Kearns secured her second selection as the MPSF Player of the Week on March 22 after a powerful performance in Hawai'i. In a night game in Honolulu, Kearns scored a game-high four goals on five shots taken in USC's 12-9 road win at No. 5 Hawai'i. She scored twice in the first period to help the Trojans lead it 5-3 early, and her third also got USC a two-goal advantage, up 9-7 in the third. Kearns' fourth goal of the night was the final stroke in USC's 12-9 victory. Kearns leads the Trojans in scoring so far this season with 51 goals.
TILLY TALLIES MPSF HONORS
In USC's first MPSF clash against undefeated Cal, Tilly Kearns scored three goals, drew four exclusions and had two steals in a 13-7 Trojan win over the Golden Bears. For her powerful performance in USC's key conference win, Kearns earned her first selection as MPSF Player of the Week on Feb. 22. Kearns' first goal helped build an 8-5 halftime lead for USC, and she'd score two more in the third as USC shut out Cal in that frame to lead it 12-5.
For the first time since 2009, USC will have two Trojans in the water coming off of Olympic experiences in 2020 Olympians Paige Hauschild (USA) and Tilly Kearns (Australia). Extra International influx comes from Spain's Alejandra Aznar, who also took time away from USC to train with her national team for the Games, although she did not compete in Tokyo. That trio last capped up together as Trojans in 2019 — Hauschild's sophomore season and the first for Kearns and Aznar. That year, they scored a combined 119 goals — almost 30 percent of USC's total output in a season that saw the Trojans win the MPSF Tournament and come up just short of the 2019 NCAA title. Altogether, they are a triple threat all their own. Hauschild wields a ferocious outside shot that combines with immense strength as a defender. Kearns is a proven force at the two-meter spot. And Aznar boasts a deft left hand to give USC's balance a depth charge. But offensive firepower only scratches the surface of their overall value to the Trojans this season.
BACK TO IT
Headlining USC's returning talent pool are returning All-Americans Mireia Guiral, Grace Tehaney and Bayley Weber. They pumped in a combined 93 goals, including six in the 18-9 NCAA championship victory last year. Similar to the versatility of Hauschild, Kearns and Aznar, respectively, this trio offers up defensive strength in Weber, two-meter prowess in Guiral and a left-handed laser in Tehaney. Just a freshman in 2021, Julia Janov gleaned invaluable experience as a member of that championship squad, while relative veterans Sabrina Garabet and Sophia Lucas also soaked in significant playing time to solidify their roles as leaders this year. And on the defensive end, USC has two strong goalies returning to help anchor the Trojans in upperclassmen Erin Tharp and Carolyne Stern.
As it looks now, this is the first "normal" season for USC women's water polo following two years impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. USC's 2020 campaign was cut short with the Trojans ranked No. 1 in the nation. And 2021 featured a modified schedule with expanded MPSF competition and minimal nonconference competition en route to the Trojans' run to the national championship. As 2022 competition kicks off on Saturday (Jan. 29), USC is looking toward another powerful season that ultimately will see the Trojans maneuver into yet another NCAA appearance. USC has made it to all 17 NCAA tournaments, with no plans to change course. The Trojans also have the benefit of hosting this year's MPSF Tournament, which will run April 22-24 at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
In 2021, USC dropped just one game all season (22-1) en route to a record-breaking win in the NCAA championship game that marked USC's seventh national championship and first under head coach Marko Pintaric. The Trojans beat Stanford 9-6 in the MPSF Tournament title match and later avenged their only loss of the year with a dominant 18-9 win over UCLA in the national championship game, scoring the most goals ever in an NCAA final. Eventual Cutino Award winner Maud Megens scored six of those goals for the Trojans. She would also be named National Player of the Year, and Pintaric was picked as National Coach of the Year. Megens was one of a program record-tying eight All-Americans in 2021, joined on the All-America First Team by fellow seniors Denise Mammolito and Holly Parker. Junior Bayley Weber earned Second Team status, and senior Kelsey McIntosh was a Third Team pick. And earning All-America Honorable Mention were Verica Bakoc, Mireia Guiral and Grace Tehaney. •